Austin debate a draw; Obama wins

Tonight’s Democratic presidential debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton struck me as basically a draw, and according to the predictions of the pundits, that means Obama won. That said, and before I allow my thoughts to be polluted by post-debate analyses from those same pundits, a few observations:

  • I expected Clinton to come out swinging; for the most part, she didn’t.
  • She launched her plagiarism allegation again, and again it sounded ridiculous. It gave her a chance to drop in her little x-bomb — “change you can Xerox” — but it sounded way too contrived. Given the opening, Obama noted that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was a co-chairman of his campaign and had given him the lines. (An interesting aside: my son called and said most young people under the age of 25 don’t even know the verb “to Xerox.”)
  • A question to Obama about earmarks sounded to me like a mistake by CNN’s John King. Clinton is the one known for having sponsored the most earmarks in the last year, not Obama. (Remember the request for Woodstock memorial funding?) Obama seemed genuinely surprised by the question, and immediately told King he was wrong. A blunt but understandable reaction.
  • Both candidates seemed evasive and tentative when asked about building a border fence. They sounded uncomfortably aware that they were speaking in Texas, with its huge Latino population.
  • Both also waffled when Univision’s Jorge Ramos asked about the U.S. eventually becoming a bilingual nation. They managed to support English as our “unifying” national language without calling it the nation’s “official language.”
  • Clinton struck me as conciliatory in her closing remarks. It was as if she realized Obama is going to get the nomination and that mending fences is now her best approach, particularly if she wants any kind of political future.
  • I disagree with CNN’s Bill Schneider, who thought Clinton got a standing ovation at the end. I think it was simply the customary applause for all the participants at the end of a debate.
  • As expected, Clinton had the more succinct answers while Obama was more long-winded and professorial.
  • I’m sure CNN has a reason for using this particular stage set-up, but I don’t like it. the candates are seated uncomfortably close together, almost within each other’s personal space, and it is awkward for them to look at and address each other. Nor do I need to see the moderators featured just as prominantly as the candidates. Put them back in the shadows in front of the stage and give the candidates some elbow room.

A transcript of the debate is available here.

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